On November 16, Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan, was elected president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). He succeeds former president of the USCCB, Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago.

Dr. George Weigel (Ethics and Public Policy Center) asserted that Archbishop Dolan “will provide an example of vibrant orthodoxy for both the Church and the country.”

Monsignor Michael Heintz, professor of theology and rector of St. Matthew’s Cathedral in South Bend, echoed Dr. Weigel, saying, “Archbishop Dolan is a superb choice as a spokesman and leader of the nation’s episcopate.  He’s affable, articulate, self-deprecating, and a wonderful voice and face for the Conference.  In his short time in New York, he has already been well-received and embraced by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  He’s as solid theologically as he is shrewd and prudent pastorally.  A great choice.”  

Archbishop Dolan was the fifth of the 83 bishops who spoke out against Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama in 2009.  He was quoted many times labeling the invitation “a big mistake” that wrongly signaled to Notre Dame students, “We [the university] hold him up as a model to you.”

Bishop Kicanas, on the other hand, was more sympathetic to Notre Dame’s decision. In a 2009 interview with John Allen, Jr. of National Catholic Reporter (NCR), he suggested that Notre Dame may have interpreted “differently” the USCCB document “Catholics in Political Life,” which speaks clearly against honoring or giving platforms to pro-choice politicians.   

Though Dr. Weigel told The Rover that he didn’t know whether Archbishop Dolan’s election was related to his criticism of Notre Dame, he does expect that in the future “there will be intensified conversation with universities that the local bishop perceives as being not-as-Catholic as they might be.”

Dr. Weigel also expects “the USCCB to make clear that its guidelines on how local dioceses are to deal with dissident Catholic politicians — i.e., no public forums, no honors, etc. — are to be observed by everyone.”

 For the first time since the 1960s, the sitting vice president was not elected to the seat. According to the USCCB press release, on the third round of balloting, Archbishop Dolan was elected 128-111 in a run-off with Gerald Kicanas.

 “While Archbishop Dolan’s election was something that seemed rather unprecedented it was not a total surprise,” commented Msgr. Heintz. He added that the USCCB is an institution “which is — historically speaking — a small blip in the two thousand-year history of the Church.”

The NYT and other prominent newspapers have pointed out that within the American Catholic Church, Archbishop Dolan represents a moderate conservative tradition, while Bishop Kicanas represents a more liberal tradition that stresses social justice. 

Archbishop Dolan, however, rejected seeing his differences with Bishop Kicanas as bipartisan.  In the press conference immediately after the election, he said, “We bishops would bristle at the characterization that there are some bishops who tend to be more pro-life and family issues while others tend to the social-justice issues.” 

 “I don’t think that characterization would apply to Bishop Kicanas and myself,” he continued, adding, “I once invited him to speak to one of our town meetings. He addressed pro-life, education, and marriage and family. I don’t find that kind of caricaturing to be accurate.”  He argues that they are both committed to Catholic ideas and the differences lie in their leadership style.

Archbishop Dolan, who was characterized recently in a Catholic Online news article by Deacon Keith Fournier as the “gregarious, dynamic, orthodox, and beloved Archbishop of New York,” carries a strong record on pro-life issues. He led the group of evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox Christian leaders that produced the “Manhattan Declaration,” a statement that speaks out against abortion and same-sex marriage.

Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown, told the NYT the election results are “a signal that the conference wants to be a leader in the culture wars.”

  Elliott Marie likes performing live nativity plays. Contact her at eargue@nd.edu. Gabby Speach also contributed reporting to this article.